People, place and rule

Military map of Chin-chou, China, 1850-1859

Catalogue reference: FO 931/1900

As the archive of the UK Government and official publisher of UK legislation, we are in a unique position to chart state transformations, sovereignty and social reform over time. Our research on individuals and government, nation and society, aims to illuminate the past and inform contemporary debate.

Potential research questions

  • What do archives tell us about the evolution of local and national government and the rule of law?
  • What agency and voice does the individual have within the records of government or the state?
  • What does the record tell us about geographical power structures and how physical and theoretical boundaries have been established and challenged over time?
  • How do our records support understanding of processes of centralisation, globalisation and modern diplomatic relations?
  • How are legal frameworks adapting and how do they need to adapt to shifts in the way people access the record?

Core research challenges

Placing the record in context

We need to explore the relationship between our records and the context of their creation, arrangement and ongoing use. Understanding the administrative structures of a record’s creation enables us to understand its historical origins and to assess its purpose and impact. This will enable us to connect seemingly isolated collections and draw patterns across our records and those held in the UK and beyond.

Recovering the individual within state discourse

We will uncover the lived experience of citizens who engaged with the state, and reveal how ordinary people navigated official processes, made their voices heard and influenced social change. The individual’s voice can go unheard within the sweeping apparatus of state and the vast legal record, and research is essential to unearth the human response to law and policy.

Contested borders and spaces

We want to examine the connection between people and land, and how boundaries, both physical and imagined, have been established. Records enable us to map the evolution of social, legal and political spaces over time, on a truly global scale. At a time when borders and rights are being challenged and reshaped around the world, our records have great relevance for contemporary discourse and international debate.

Associated projects

In Their Own Write
High Court of Admiralty Prize Papers
England’s Immigrants 1330–1550

Contact us

Contact us if you would like to work with us to explore any of the research questions or challenges above.